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Nano Education - Nano Erziehung - Nano Onderwijs

Nanotechnology – a special case for training?

Europe needs an approach that fosters high-quality scientists and engineers while taking into account interdisciplinarity and innovation along with wider societal issues. This was the clear message from the first EC workshop dedicated to education and research training needs for nanosciences and nanotechnologies.

However, delegates emphasised that the educational issues are not necessarily unique to nanotechnology. Good practice can be found in other areas of research training and the new approaches established for ‘nano-training' should be applicable across other innovative research sectors.

Progress in nanotechnology has been rapid, but there is a major human resources issue looming. Education and training is essential to bring forward a new generation of researchers and other skilled workers with the flexible and interdisciplinary R&D approach that nanotechnology needs. Success in this new technology will underpin progress in a vast swathe of science and enterprise, so good interpersonal skills and an understanding of commerce are also required.

The first day of the workshop saw a number of plenary lectures setting the scene and giving viewpoints from industry, academia and the European Commission. New training ideas and initiatives at national and European level were described including contributions from the US and Japan.

Keeping up the pace

The second day was devoted to four parallel sessions. Access to analytical facilities is an issue according to Stefan Csillag of Stockholm University, who reported back on the session on the pace of training for research. The availability of infrastructure across the EU is not homogeneous and giving students hands-on experience in expensive characterisation techniques is important. A broad cross-disciplinary education with a sharp focus on appropriate key skills was a model that seemed to be emerging as a practical approach with the emphasis on obtaining high quality researchers. Professor Csillag also highlighted the need to help the mobility of students from western to eastern Europe, which requires funding to motivate students and to establish attractive Centres of Excellence.

Bridging the disciplines

Francis Tay of the National University of Singapore summarised the session on new approaches. He agreed that nanotechnology is not a new discipline but a new approach involving an integration of skills. He gave the example of materials science and medicine that have successfully worked through similar issues of integrating scientific disciplines.

It was felt that the current single-discipline course approach is still appropriate at undergraduate level, and that industry placements during degree courses are helpful and inspiring. At post-graduate level there is a need to seek excellence and cross-disciplinary MSc courses are particularly valuable for this – the Leuven University Erasmus Mundus course was highlighted as a good model. At PhD level, the need for an interdisciplinary approach depends entirely on the project's research aims, but flexibility and open-mindedness is important. “Problem solving is the common issue,” said Prof. Tay, “leading naturally to interdisciplinary cooperation”. Joint departmental supervision of PhD students should be encouraged where appropriate and institutional obstacles to interdisciplinary research should be removed. The use of infrastructure funding to bring research communities under one roof could also prove beneficial. The promotion of summer schools, bringing eminent researchers and less experienced colleagues from different disciplines together, to discuss the state-of-the-art in a non-threatening environment, could be a good mechanism to advance collaboration and networking.

Intersectorial – bringing academia and industry together

Terry Wilkins of the NanoManufacturing Institute at Leeds University addressed the needs of industry and career development. He again highlighted the importance of MSc courses and especially of maintaining the balance between creation (nanoscience) and innovation (nanotechnology). The modular aspect of many MSc courses could allow their adaptation to continuing professional development in industry. A mechanism should also be found to ensure a two-way flow of people between industry and academia: this is an issue for biotechnology and information and communication technologies as well.

In many ways a nanoscience MSc should resemble ‘a technical MBA'. What industry needs are ‘polymaths fluent in multiple disciplines', entrepreneurial people as well as ‘deep specialists' – all bringing different skill sets to a team approach.  Training in non-technical skills such as economics is important. In particular, fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in technical people is required and the coaching scheme established by the Swiss CTI institution was highlighted as a good model.

Regulatory requirements when starting an SME need to be simplified and harmonised, with easier access to capital. The greater engagement of the European Investment Bank in research funding was welcomed. The patents system in Europe needs improvement, with better validation and simpler processes. A system that truly rewarded the researcher for the value of the IP generated would be a great incentive.

Widening the horizons

Young people need to be excited by nanotechnology and one way of supporting teachers could be the provision of ‘off-the-shelf' kits, developed by higher education institutions for use in school lessons. This was one idea from the session addressing ‘raising awareness in the young and public concerns' reported by Bharat Bhushan of Ohio State University.

Within research-level courses, safety, health and environmental issues need to be incorporated. There was some debate about best practice to incorporate ethical aspects within courses. The ethical aspect is important and related to the need to successfully engage the public in an open manner. There is a need to raise awareness about the potential risks of the technology, but also bearing in mind the tangible benefits that it can deliver. The ‘GMO experience has many lessons to offer and there is a need to engage with non-scientific experts to solve all these issues.'


This story has been adapted from a news release -
Diese Meldung basiert auf einer Pressemitteilung -
Deze tekst is gebaseerd op een nieuwsbericht -



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